December 26, 2020

How the word "how" has become the most deceptive word in the history of headlines.

I'm sure some "how" headlines sit atop articles that really explain how to do something, but I must cry out against the infestation of "how" in headlines. 

I'm seeing headline after headline that would be more accurate if you just crossed out the "how," because the article isn't really going to tell you how X happened. It's only going to tell you that X happened.

I've been meaning to rail about this for quite some time. What pushed me over the edge this morning was this, in Rolling Stone: "How Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ Brilliantly Mingled Sex, Religion." No, you don't know how he did it! You only know that he did it. Or, at best, the manner in which he did — i.e., "brilliantly." 

Just keep an eye out for "how" headlines. That's all I'm saying. Sometimes they are good, and I'm guilty of deploying "how" to lure readers, but as a reader, I am among the potential victims, and I'm trying to heighten my distaste for bait.

41 comments:

Political Junkie said...

How "how" halted how.

Kevin said...

The news is no longer about what happened.

It’s about HOW we’re supposed to think about it.

tim maguire said...

It’s dangerous to consciously heighten your sensitivity to clickbait when clickbait is becoming ubiquitous even at once respectable news outlets. It often seems that headline writers don’t even read the article they are writing a headline for. Rather, I think they call the writer and ask him what the story is about. They listen for a few seconds and then start playing with SEO words.

Ty said...

The headlines that start with "No, " have become my pet peeve.

"No, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ Did not Brilliantly Mingle Sex, Religion."

"No, Trump isn’t Teflon. Scandals lower his approval among Republicans — if they see the news."

"No, Biden’s win wasn’t ‘statistically impossible’"

BidenFamilyTaxPayerFundedCrackPipe said...

I hate that Democrat-SNL took that song and gave it to poor old corrupt Hillary.

After she lost.

REcall when she lost, nobody thought about vote fraud. UnLike now - where it we all witnessed clear as day what happened in the wee hours of unwatched night, and piles of blank ballots. filled out. shoved thru.
Hillary actually planted the "Russia stole the election from me' BS. It was planted in toxic Maddow soil, and it grew.

Fernandinande said...

No, you don't know how he did it!

Bad example, since they explain how he "Brilliantly Mingled Sex, Religion", e.g.

"Following the David and Bathsheba reference, the sexuality of the lyrics is drawn further forward and then reinforced in an image of torture and lust taken from the story of Samson and Delilah" etc.

boatbuilder said...

Back when The Cleveland Browns drafted Johnnie Football Manziell, some fan did a clever parody with the refrain “Brian Hoyer, Brian Hoyer.”

Stop hear “Brian Hoyer” every time.

boatbuilder said...

I still. Autocucumber. Bleh.

tcrosse said...

"How" is almost as bad as "Kowabonga". It's paleface supremacy.

Lurker21 said...


Without intrepid journalists would we really know about “The Undoing of Jeffrey Toobin: How the leading man of legal journalism lost his sweetest gig”?

Just exactly how Jeff lost his job was a puzzlement to all of us before we read the article.

***

But I think the "how" may be descriptive, rather than explanatory. The writers don't explain the reasons or causes. They take the opportunity to recount the process or the circumstances the course of events. And the "How" in the headline lets them pat themselves on the back for doing something more than just telling or retelling a story when they haven't.

stlcdr said...

Ugh. Now I see that everywhere.

Sebastian said...

"the article isn't really going to tell you how X happened"

Good to call BS, but we do happen to need an article to tell us how X. Kendi happened.

RMc said...

And then there's the "question" headlines: "Will (random event) Cause Total Catastrophe?" (Answer: No, it won't.)

m stone said...

I find "why" a bigger problem in headlines.

m

MayBee said...

Yes, the "how" articles are annoying, and as Kevin said, it's only how we are supposed to think about things.

I think Vox and the "Vox explainers" were the apex of this kind of journalism. The "how", and the "what you need to know about...."
it's all spoon feeding.

Danno said...

How Maybee said it.

Qwinn said...

Still waiting for "How the true story of Hunter Biden operating as a bagman for his father's corrupt dealings with Russia, Ukraine, China and God knows how many other countries was completely covered up by the entire social media and MSM complex prior to the election".

I mean, that's one of the few stories they *could actually tell us* "how" it happened. But they still won't even tell us that it did.

narciso said...

https://apelbaum.wordpress.com/

wildswan said...

Why sociology makes you ask "how,", not why.

Sociology, a rambling narrative of causeless events (or "how") came to replace history, a narrative of causes and consequences (or "why"). Why? People want to think there will be no consequences. Steal an election, allow a rambling, corrupt fool to lead your wealthy country against its dangerous, relatively poor enemies, and sociology will just say how it happened, not predict bad consequences. So, no worries. The Children's Hour

Qwinn said...

Or maybe we could get the story of "How the Democrats and media impeached Trump for investigating Biden's criminal activity even as the FBI and DOJ sat on ironclad proof that the criminal activity happened and such an investigation was necessary and already in progress." They could actually tell us "how" that one happened too. But that's a "how" headline we will never see, at least not until the Civil War is over.

Temujin said...

You are correct. "How" headlines are an infection. Along with lists. "How lists became the most popular form of 'How' headers"

narciso said...


Hmm

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/world/2020/12/25/US-Explosion-rocks-downtown-Nashville-early-Christmas-morning

Howard said...

"How" means some bullsh narrative or confirmation of popular bias to make people comfortable.

Much of the world is inexplicable. It is what it is. Unless the how helps make accurate predictions of future events, it's just clever cocktail hour conversation.

BidenFamilyTaxPayerFundedCrackPipe said...

How you can drink less with this one weird trick.

Lewis Wetzel said...

Stories with titles that begin with the word "how" should be taken as seriously as Kipling's "How the Leopard Got Its Spots."

These days it seems that the more article is constructed from opinion, the more its author wants it to be taken as "fact."

Example: "How we can encourage people to wear masks — for others’ sake," appearing on Vox, of course, whose young bourgeois authors & editors believe, like the Victorian scientists, that their minds are a clear lens to comprehend a world made of facts.

Their is hardly a sentence in the article that is not value laden, or simply wrong (Americans aren't outliers in doing things like social distancing & mask wearing).
"But in a pandemic, what public health officials are pleading for is a little more conformity." Sez the author, who Vox informs us is assistant professor in the management division of Columbia Business School with expertise in the psychology of judgment and decision-making, economic inequality and social mobility, social comparisons, and zero-sum thinking

I've read the orders of the governors of California and Minnesota. Asking for a "little more conformity" is not what they are asking for; they are demanding the right to govern your behavior during the most intimate social interactions. Forbidding an ill, elderly resident of a long term care facility visits from relatives not asking for "a little more conformity."

Bilwick said...

"How 'Liberalism' went from being pro-freedom to coercive, liberty-phobic State-cultism." Now, there's an article worth reading. (Actually, there was a boook about it, if you can dig it up:
THE DECLINE OF AMERICAN LIBERALISM, by Arthur Ekrich.)

Ken B said...

It’s part of a pattern, words that modern journalists don’t care about: who, what, when, where, why, how.

JaimeRoberto said...

Aren't all of Cohen's songs about religion, sex and/or death?

Earnest Prole said...

You’re right about ‘how’ headlines in general but wrong about this particular Rolling Stone example. As the piece makes clear, the ‘how’ answer is contained in the song itself: “The baffled king composing Hallelujah!” Creation is nothing less than a miracle.

Joe Smith said...

'How' is a bullshit, clickbait headline...it always ends up being 'What.'

Zach said...

The How headline is annoying, but this is an example of the real thing:

The second verse of “Hallelujah” shifts to the second person – “Your faith was strong but you needed proof.” Apparently the narrator is now addressing the character who was described in the first verse, since the next lines invoke another incident in the David story, when the king discovers and is tempted by Bathsheba. (“And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon” – 2 Samuel 11:2.)

Reverend Scott calls the choice of the word baffled to describe this David “an obvious understatement on Cohen’s part. David is God’s chosen one, the righteous king who would rule Israel as God’s servant. The great King David becomes no more than a baffled king when he starts to live for himself.

“But even after the drama, the grasping, conniving, sinful King David is still Israel’s greatest poet, warrior and hope,” Scott continued. “There is so much brokenness in David’s life, only God can redeem and reconcile this complicated personality. That is why the baffled and wounded David lifts up to God a painful hallelujah.”


The article is literally giving you chapter and verse to explain how the song's allusions have both a religious and a sexual meaning.

Zach said...

One point where I disagree with the article is where it goes into explaining the production choices. In the '80s, Cohen had a bad habit of over orchestrating his songs. In contrast, the people covering the song have often identified that it works best a cappella or with minimal accompaniment.

The duality of the lyrics can be conveyed well by a voice like Cohen's, which is both warm and regretful. Or you can choose a direction and emphasize either the religious or the sexual angle. But soaring orchestration chooses the angle for you and breaks the balance.

Leora said...

I am pleased to find our host is bothered by this as much as I have been.

Unknown said...

Clickbait, indeed! The article seems to ignore the obvious, that Hallelujah in the song refers to orgasm, and thereby taunts an ex, who believes the Scriptures. It’s got a nasty edge to it, like Like a Rolling Stone.

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

Good catch, Althouse. Deception is everywhere.

Daniel Jackson said...

"I'm seeing headline after headline that would be more accurate if you just crossed out the "how," because the article isn't really going to tell you how X happened. It's only going to tell you that X happened."

I agree you have clearly THAT these distortions have occurred. HOW do we become able to conduct this sort of analyses step by step?

Seriously. Please explain your process to have insight into matters such as these.

Bunkypotatohead said...

Old woman yells at clouds.

Peter said...

See <a href="https://youtu.be/o2nG7-eXxko”>Eric Weinstein expatiate on Hallelujah</a> on Alex Friedman’s podcast.
At 9’56”

TheThinMan said...

Newspapers were concerned about losing readers way before the internet, the threat being TV and radio. Their solution was to offer “depth,” something broadcast news didn’t have time for. But then they found no one wanted to read long articles. Putting “how” in the headline was the the way to promise more but keep it snappy. The internet didn’t change the equation much because the traditional media just made it their base and continued putting out their flagship product.

PM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PM said...

I believe it's a Native American invention.